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NHS adds supplier security audits to procurement platform

A new feature in the NHS’s Edge4Health procurement platform will help NHS suppliers improve their cyber security posture and NHS organisations make better buying decisions

NHS Shared Business Services (SBS) and its cloud platform partner Virtualstock have enlisted cyber threat intelligence and risk assessment specialist Orpheus Cyber to add integrated security audits to the Edge4Health procurement platform and improve supply chain security for the health service.

Launched in January 2020 with a staged roll-out to a few NHS trusts, Edge4Health is billed as a consumer-style digital procurement hub designed to cut costs, improve visibility and data management, and ensure greater compliance in the NHS. It can be used to buy over a million products and services – not limited to IT – and is understood to have transacted over £8m of spend to date.

The feature enables NHS suppliers to check and improve their security using a dial indicating whether their rating is good, average or bad. Clicking on it will allow suppliers to download a report providing information on the various threats and vulnerabilities they are subject to, and how to mitigate them, hopefully improving their own security and that of their customers.

“With £9bn of annual spend, the NHS has some of the longest and most complex supply chains in the world. Ensuring the security and integrity of these supply chains is a priority for NHS organisations, the government and suppliers,” said NHS SBS procurement director, Phil Davies.

“Enabling suppliers to swiftly check on their current cyber security status is an important step forward in mitigating the threat posed.”

Information will also be made available to NHS organisations buying through the platform, through a buying community cyber risk rating, to help decision-makers take better account of security considerations when buying services.

Oliver Church, CEO of Orpheus Cyber – other customers of which include the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), mobile operator O2 and accountancy firm Smith & Williamson – said cyber criminals were increasingly targeting supply chains as a weak link to compromise their ultimate targets, in this case NHS organisations with access to confidential data.

“We frequently see significant damage to customers when suppliers, disabled by cyber attacks, are no longer able to provide vital goods and services – which is potentially very serious when dealing with patient health”
Oliver Church, Orpheus Cyber

“Attacks are becoming increasingly complex, tending to focus not just on stealing data but on permanently deleting or encrypting it. Furthermore, we frequently see significant damage to customers when suppliers, disabled by cyber attacks, are no longer able to provide vital goods and services – which is potentially very serious when dealing with patient health,” said Church.

“Because private data is often distributed through supply chains, a breach of a supplier can easily leak sensitive information, a major concern when dealing with the privacy of patient personal data. Legislation such as the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] provides for heavy fines if private data is breached due to poor cyber security.”

In November 2019, Orpheus Cyber published a whitepaper looking specifically at the security arrangements of NHS suppliers. It suggested that NHS trusts themselves were increasingly at risk of supply chain attacks because so many of them have spent lavishly on their own security since the 2017 WannaCry disaster, meaning bad actors now have to look for another way in.

Based on a study of 622 suppliers pre-listed for the Edge4Health platform, the report said that 88% of suppliers had had company emails and passwords leaked due to attacks on third-party databases, 37% had vulnerabilities that look attractive to cyber criminals, 17% appeared to run easily targeted databases and 95% lacked advanced email protection.

Supply chain attacks, related to so-called island-hopping attacks, are a particularly potent threat to multiple industries, as seen in 2019 when attackers with alleged links to the Chinese government got inside Airbus’s network to steal technical information related to the A350 airliner.

Such attacks take place when attackers get access to a third party with trusted access to their target’s network, as many NHS suppliers will have. Subsequent attacks against the target will thence look like an internal attack and may be harder to detect by perimeter-focused cyber security systems.

Read more about supply chain security

  • Both physical and cyber supply chain security are critically important. Expert Ernie Hayden outlines the recent history of supply chain defences and what enterprises need to know.
  • Poor internal security procedures and a lack of compliance protocols – especially for small suppliers – can introduce cyber security threats into global supply chains.
  • Context Information Security’s threat intel and response teams says it has evidence that the recent supply chain attacks on Airbus are the work of a newly identified group called Avivore.

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